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The Legal Guardian
by David Givot

How off-duty decisions can kill your career

Your life as an EMS provider goes on even when the uniform comes off, and the consequences of poor decisions can forever alter your future

By David Givot

Updated July 1, 2014

Like it or not, the individuals rolling past in an ambulance, squad, chase car, fire engine, or truck are role models for the impressionable citizens who gaze in awe as you pass. You know it is true, because you feel their eyes on you as you whiz by ... and you get a tingle of pride (or something) every time.

Whatever the reason, more is expected of EMS providers and when things go sideways, the consequences tend to be greater. For EMS providers, one unfortunate decision can forever alter a future, end a career, and diminish to nothing the value of a life's work.

I have found that, in general, most providers recognize what is at stake on the job and most function within the boundaries.

On the job, that is.

Off-duty decisions 

My practice continues to prosper on the indiscretions of providers who make those bad choices when they are off duty and away from work.

For most of society, simply being arrested for things like petty theft, public drunkenness, assault, battery, urinating in public, possession of marijuana, even DUI has little, if any, impact on the long term. Most never report it to their employer or tell anyone outside their own social circle. The incident is dealt with quietly in the background of life and, in many instances, never materializes into something life-altering.

EMS providers, on the other hand, have much more to consider. Even an arrest can be the end of you. Employers have rigid reporting standards, which can create the proverbial catch-22. Failure to report is terminable; reporting leads to suspension, internal investigation into your external life, and possibly termination — either way, you lose. Then, licensing and certifying agencies have character guidelines and, in many instances, receive notification of the arrest automatically from the arresting agency.

In California, for instance, the EMS Authority can, depending on the charge, suspend your paramedic license immediately followed by a potentially lengthy state investigation to determine whether your license should be revoked outright. Of course, the state will inform your employer of the temporary license suspension and Pandora's box is open. Oh, and don't forget the Motor Vehicle Department. That otherwise easily resolved first DUI has devastating consequences for your commercial driver's license, the one that allows you to operate the emergency vehicle ... which you have to report to your employer and possibly to the licensing agency. And you have not even had a single court appearance yet, much less been convicted.

The long and short of it all is that your life as an EMS provider goes on even when the uniform comes off. The standards that make you special in the eyes of a grateful community are those that can and will strip you of everything for violating their trust.

About the author

David Givot, Esq., graduated from the UCLA Center for Prehospital Care (formerly DFH) in June 1989 and spent most of the next decade working as a Paramedic responding to 911 in Glendale, CA, with the (then BLS only) fire department. By the end of 1998, he was traveling around the country working with distressed EMS agencies teaching improved field provider performance through better communication and leadership practices. David then moved into the position of director of operations for the largest ambulance provider in the Maryland. Now, back in Los Angeles, he has earned his law degree and is a practicing Defense Attorney still looking to the future of EMS. In addition to defending EMS Providers, both on the job and off, he has created as a vital step toward improving the state of EMS through information and education designed to protect EMS professionals - and agencies - nationwide. David can be contacted via e-mail at
The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of or its staff. If you cannot see comments, try disabling privacy and ad blocking plugins in your browser. All comments must comply with our Member Commenting Policy.
Kevin White Kevin White Wednesday, July 02, 2014 9:48:47 AM I've always thought that consequences could be dire. Now, thanks to you, I know the how and why. I appreciate the information.
Isabel Archer Isabel Archer Wednesday, July 02, 2014 10:40:04 AM If I am out took get drunk I always make sure to have a designated driver and encourage all my friends to have one too.
Jack Allen Jack Allen Wednesday, July 02, 2014 6:18:16 PM EMS bureaucracy loves to grind providers under their thumbs. Failure to report just an arrest is terminable, and, reporting it can get you suspended or fired. Sounds like Joan Crawford in "Mommy Dearest." The last time I heard about this kind of justice it was called The Inquisition, or Salem Witch Trials. Forced to confess and then punished for admitting guilt. There would be strong incentive to exercise 5th amendment rights from the time of arrest & not tell any government official anything. EMS is so special to everyone? Then, stop treating them like non-citizens & ruining lives without due process. What if charges are dropped or the medic is acquitted? Do they get their career back with back pay? Hopefully, Attorney Givot, you are also working to change laws and and restore constitutional rights to EMS.
Lawrence Ryan Lawrence Ryan Thursday, July 03, 2014 7:05:45 AM Who is asking you to confess guilt? Advising your employer that you were arrested or charged with an offense is not an admission of guilt. Your employer has the right to put you on administrative duties or suspension with pay pending the outcome. Suspension without pay or termination, prior to conviction, is illegal. In some cases your service will have no choice to take you off the ambulance until your legal proceedings are concluded. They know what public perception will be like if something happens and you are involved, and it later comes out that you were previously involved in something else. The loss of public trust can be staggering towards a service. We need to remember that the service and nature of our business is bigger and more important than any one of us. The patch on your shirt was around before any of us and it will be around long after we are gone. In EMS if you administer the wrong dosage of a medication to a patient, are you required to report it to the appropriate authority (whether it be your service of the doctor whose licence you practice under)? Of course you are. I've never heard an EMS provider complain that they are being treated like non-citizens or having their lives ruined without due process. They understand the reasoning for this being necessary. Somebody who makes a mistake, and admits to it, not a huge problem because we are all human and that situation can be dealt with immediately (which let's be honest, most of the time it's a "don't do that again"). If a provider covers something like that up that demonstrates a complete lack of integrity, professionalism and accountability. If they will cover that up, what else will they cover up or try to get away with that they know is wrong? Those in EMS are held to a higher standard of conduct because of the work they do. As such they are given an elevated status in the eyes of citizens, and rightfully so. If people in EMS wish to be held to the same standard as everyone else in the working world, where you don't need to report your indiscretions, then you should also be prepared to be treated like just another worker bee in the world. You don't get to act like everyone else and then get treated like you are special. Life doesn't work that way in any profession. If people do not like having to act like a true professional then perhaps they should seek employment in another field.
David A. Wells David A. Wells Friday, July 04, 2014 5:14:30 AM This is so very TRUE someone is always watching
Amber Adams Amber Adams Friday, July 11, 2014 2:54:23 PM And in the day and age of cell phones, someone ALWAYS has a camera ready to upload to the internet. Keep it classy guys.
Lawrence Sullivan Lawrence Sullivan Wednesday, September 17, 2014 4:28:41 PM ALSO, Watch what you post on Facebook, your bosses are watching!!!!
Cr Chris Cr Chris Wednesday, September 17, 2014 4:29:20 PM You don't need cdl to operate an emergency vehicle
Andy Walker Andy Walker Wednesday, September 17, 2014 4:30:57 PM It should be this way. We all know what we are getting into we signed up. It's a morality code. Teachers go through the same thing. I taught for several years and could have been investigated just for the appearance of impropriety. Easy solution, don't put yourselves in a position to even appear that there is wrong doing.
Shaun Brogan Shaun Brogan Wednesday, September 17, 2014 5:21:45 PM You're right but sadly most ems companies won't hire you untilyou have one or they will pay you to take the course. It's not that you have to have it, the insurance for a company that only allows cdl drivers is a lot less than those without.
Bruce A Mills Bruce A Mills Wednesday, September 17, 2014 6:03:07 PM I have been in EMS 35 years worked in 3 states and never ONCE have I heard of and AMBULANCE Driver needing a CDL. BS
Shaun Brogan Shaun Brogan Wednesday, September 17, 2014 6:16:49 PM You're right in all of the physical and legal sense, you do not need to have your cdl to drive an ambulance, all I am saying is that some companies for instance take Umc Texas will hire ems without a cdl and then they will sendyou to get your cdl and pay for it. The reason being it lowers their insurance. Take Lubbock ambulance though which operates under the same area doesn't ask you to have a cdl nor do they require it because as I stated previously you do not have to have a cdl to operate an ambulance.
John Riggs John Riggs Wednesday, September 17, 2014 6:35:54 PM For my employer we ARE required to maintain a CDL/chauffeur license. But my real gripe is with "self reporting". If a nurse walks into the state board of nursing and says "I'm an addict". They will go thru the "recovering nurse" program. No suspension and no criminal charge. If a paramedic" self reports (a) you're fired (b) the Registry is notified (probable revocation) and refered to law enforcement (especially if suspected of drug diversion or other possible crime). What happened to "equal treatment under the law"?
David Loftin David Loftin Wednesday, September 17, 2014 6:45:32 PM Unfortunately the company you are working for can take the hit for non reporting such as revocation of Medicare reimbursement, loss of county contract, cancellation of vehicle insurance and revocation of ambulance licensure. So if I were the employer I would always worry that one of those things would occur. I have see all these happen. There is a process for impaired providers to reenter the profession after recovery.
Tanya Pomerville-Woods Tanya Pomerville-Woods Wednesday, September 17, 2014 9:06:56 PM If you are driving an "Ambulette" for transporting wheelchair bound or non-ambulatory patients to Dr's appointments for such things like dialisis, chemo, etc. and then returning them home after their our agency you do have to have a Class A License with a Passenger Endorsement to drive the vans (ambulette) with a hydraulic lift/stretcher device for transporting. An ambulance is different..valid drivers license and EVOC/CEVO...and a clear driver's abstract (agency specifics are different from one to the next). Agencies can have their own specific policies in place if they wish for certain qualifications from its members...this just happens to be my agency requirement. :)
Stanley Fitzgerald Stanley Fitzgerald Wednesday, September 17, 2014 9:19:19 PM Keep your comments to yourself, drink at home.
Cölton R. Dean Cölton R. Dean Wednesday, September 17, 2014 9:42:27 PM Violations of the law are understandable reasons to consider suspending someone's license, especially if they have demonstrated reckless behavior. But other than that there really shouldn't be any reasons to take away someone's license.
Jennavieve Garcia Jennavieve Garcia Thursday, September 18, 2014 12:05:00 AM We as professionals should probably do our best to not be the person holding another's beer as they say watch this. First step to EMS is teaching our communities how to possibly prevent emergencies with education. How many people do you think are visual learners? Actions speak louder than words please be the leader we signed up to be. That said, thank you all for your hard work and dedication!
Andy W Andy W Thursday, September 18, 2014 7:07:20 AM Also, don't have sex with farm animals or start revolutions in 3rd World countries. It makes employers uneasy. I look forward to more articles from this author on which end of the pointy needle goes towards the patient and if my underwear goes on the inside or outside of my pants. Ps- we are technicians and NOT professionals. That is unlikely to change without more education that gives degrees, not acronym cards
Roy Jobe Roy Jobe Thursday, September 18, 2014 11:02:38 AM Your partly right Andy, we are technicians, but have always held to a professional standard by everyone. And I totally agree with you that a degree level education should be required.
Diane Annas-Calkins Diane Annas-Calkins Thursday, September 18, 2014 10:07:41 PM for turds and giggles, I will spend time reviewing revoked licenses (here in California) and the documents associated with that revocation. It's amazing how you can be a druggie, boozer, bank robber, deadly weapon flasher and still get your medic license back. California isn't THAT hard up for medics, we have more medics than jobs - and yet we give them their license back so smoke meth, rob banks and drive drunk. Disappointing, VERY disappointing.
Fred Pings Fred Pings Friday, September 19, 2014 10:22:41 AM Absolutely our private life will affect our job. Its not like we are the POTUS or anything.

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